On Physical Pain

I have been struggling with pain for about five weeks. Not emotional pain, but physical pain. I ran some intervals a while ago, and I developed some pain that I thought was soreness, but it didn’t go away. A few weeks later, I went to see a doctor–not my doctor–and she diagnosed me with Delayed Onset Muscular Soreness and showed me a bunch of stretches. On Friday, I went and got a massage, and the massage therapist told me that she could feel a bunch of trigger points in my thighs, and I had obviously been working very hard. By Monday, I could barely walk, so I went to see my doctor this time. Her diagnosis was, I don’t know.

My doctor is very kind and empathetic. The world has brought so many kind and empathetic women into my life when I have needed them, and I found myself telling her that I really didn’t want to stop running because I have been using the running to manage all of the trauma that has come up from writing my book.

She asked me, “Do you think that the trauma is what is causing this pain?”

“Is that even possible?” I asked.

“Well, western medicine wouldn’t say so,” she said. “But I wouldn’t rule it out.”


In my book, I have a chapter titled “His Ghost in Her Bones.” I talk about how Caleb has become a ghost in my bones.

And I guess I was right because what is wrong with me is that I have stress fractures in both of my hips.


My problem isn’t with my muscles, but with my bones.

I did everything right to strengthen my muscles, but my bones couldn’t take it.

Bones can’t really be made stronger.


My friend said tonight, “Have you been thinking about the metaphor of birthing this book and your hips being fractured?”

I haven’t, but she made a good point.


This book is too large.

It has broken me.


But this is not a story about my book.

This  is a story about a woman who will walk around on fractured hips for five weeks.

This is a story about a woman who will finish teaching her classes, and throw multiple parties, and pack her house, and move to another house, and unpack most of that house, and send her son off to spend the summer with his father, and spend time with friends, and walk her dog every night, and flirt with multiple people (and even make out with one of them), and cook delicious meals, and work on book revisions, and write blog posts, and all of this will happen while her hips are broken.


This is a story about a woman who does not know how to feel physical pain.


Last night, I walked by a piece of broken glass from a picture frame that a friend had accidentally stepped on. The glass shard sliced through my calf. It was a pretty nasty looking wound, nasty enough that my friend wanted to take me to the ER, but I just slapped a bandaid on it.

Still, later, I broke down crying. I said, “My body is in so much pain already. I don’t think I can take anymore.”

That was the first time I had articulated how much physical pain I am in.


At the beginning of the physical therapy session, I could tell that the physical therapist didn’t take me very seriously. By the end, he took me very seriously.

He told me that I need to rest. He told me not to run at all, that I need to avoid walking, even.

I cried on my way to the car.

I called my mother. She said, “Just give yourself 48 hours on the couch, okay?” By the end of our conversation, she had modified that to 24 hours because it was clear I was never going to give myself 48 hours on the couch.

I told her that I would do as she said.

I hung up the phone and went to the gym.


When I walked in to the gym, a professor at the front desk said, “Did you get your shirt?” (It’s a shirt for having gone to the gym over a 100 times in a year.)

I have gone to the gym 166 times in the past nine months.


Throughout this process, I keep being asked to rank my pain on a scale of 1-10, but I am at a loss as to how to do this.

I asked the nurse, “Is 10 like childbirth? What do these numbers represent?”

I said, “My pain when I run is a 7. No, maybe just a 5. Or maybe only a 3.”

I said, “I don’t know what my pain is.”

She said, “It’s just for our records. Just give me a number.”

I said, “Okay, the number is 6.”


Today, the physical therapist said, “When you run, the pain is a 7 or 8, isn’t it?”

I said, “Yes, it’s a 7 or 8.”

(I had just needed his confirmation to believe it.)


How is a woman who has had to learn how to not feel physical pain supposed to rank her pain on a 1-10 scale?

Is a 1 a push? A shove?

Is a 2 a grab at the arm?

Is a 3 being pressed against a wall?

Is a 4 being shoved into a wall?

Is a 5 being being punched in the arm?

Is a 6 being punched in head?

Is a 7 having hair ripped out?

Is an 8 being punched in the face?

Is a 9 being hit with an object that has been thrown?

Is a 10 that one time that I was on my stomach, and he punched me so hard right in the middle of the spine that, no matter how much I disassociated, I couldn’t not feel it?


I find that the blog posts that get the most traction are the ones that have some kind of empowering ending.


This is not that story.

This is a story about a woman who doesn’t know how to feel or identify pain anymore.

This is a story about a woman who broke her hips because she was running away from her trauma brain.


This is a story about a woman who has been running for too long.

This is a story about a woman who doesn’t know how to stop running.

This is a story about a woman who doesn’t want to run anymore.

4 thoughts on “On Physical Pain

  1. The Menopausal Runner

    I hope you find in your heart what it is you need at this time! I truly understand putting off our health concerns and problems because other things need to get done….who wants to slow down for that?? Not sure what I would do in your position. I’m grateful to have the movement I have, pain free, and in the end I know this movement is what I need to carry on the rest of my life comfortably.
    Maybe there’s a point in our life where we have to train our bodies, similar to the way we train for a race, for the finish. And if we want to participate in life freely, through to the end, we have to take small time outs for ourself and rest just like we do in training. Just putting it out there…
    Maybe it’s time to cycle? ❤️

    Like

  2. Izzy

    Hi Kelly,

    You are amazing. I came to your writing from your ‘It Will Look Like a Sunset’ essay, and you have been a candle during a bloody dark night, for me.

    I can’t begin to express how much you have helped me. I left an abusive relationship almost a year ago, and I still have mixed feelings. I’m not strong or empowered, my story is depressing as f*ck and I feel like the most pathetic, sad version of myself.

    But I’ll get out of it. Not nearly as soon as I’d like, but it will happen.

    Again, thank you so much for everything you write and do xxx

    Like

  3. sarah ann

    Thank you for this. Pain is so misunderstood and so under diagnosed. We need to educate more people (esp healthcare providers) about pain and how it works. We shouldnt have to suck it up and deal without anything. Its beyond frustrating to deal with when no doctor wants to be the one responsible for helping you manage your pain.

    Like

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